One of the biggest conversations in gaming today is about sustainability. That is, how can big, AAA companies continue to make money on games? All it can take is a studio to make a single mistake, and people lose jobs and doors get closed. There have been stories of games selling millions of copies and still getting labeled as “underperforming” by either publishers or investors. The conversation of whether or not single-player games are dead has gone back and forth for months, if not years. So what’s the answer? Consumers have shut down games costing more than $60. Microtransactions fall into shaky territory too. Right, now, one of the big solutions is the idea of a game as service, with games like Destiny and Assassin’s Creed being built with long-term play and engagement in mind. That seemed to go well at first, but cracks are starting to form.
There are a few games that, running as long-term service games, are massively successful. That includes the likes of Fortnite, League of Legends, and Overwatch. Out of these three examples, the first two are free to play, with cosmetic microtransactions and regular content updates. Overwatch is a Blizzard game, which comes with its own baggage, but it’s also a game that comes in at a lower entry price, has a smaller scale scope, and is fueled by free updates and cosmetic purchases. Now, let’s add a full retail price and millions upon millions of dollars of budget to the equation.
Enter the likes of Destiny, Assassin’s Creed, Anthem, andStreet Fighter V. These are games that want you to pay for them over time, despite having much longer spaces between content drops and that content costing money. They want you to stick around and pay more, because of how many ludicrous piles of money it takes to make them, to pay for giant development teams, to pay for press events and marketing, and everything in-between. But in order to encourage that, these games are incorporating tactics that, well, demand all your free time.
Destiny is a game of chasing higher and higher numbers. We’re seeing that mentality seeping into plenty of games that didn’t have them before, such as the upcoming Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. It’s that MMO-style carrot-dangling that’s easy to implement without needing to pump out new content at a fast pace. And since the emphasis falls on grinding, These games don’t want you to just play them a lot, they often want you to play only that game, until the next one that comes out. If you don’t only play this one game, if this isn’t your new hobby, then you’ll miss out on limited time events, so on and so forth.
The problem with this idea is that the player base of video games cannot handle but so many service games. People who play AAA games don’t play them, generally speaking, to have one thing to do forever. Most people don’t even finish games. They play the new hotness for the week or month, get what they need out of it, then move on to the next one. They want to do that with games like Destiny as well, but they can’t play three Destinies at the same time. Part of that is why, despite the first Destiny supposedly being a multi-year thing, it only went so long before things basically started over with Destiny 2. It’s too hard to keep people on a single game without doing a sequel, and with the weird missteps Bungie has landed on with the game, I’m sure we’ll see a Destiny 3 eventually as a third try. You just can’t keep general audiences on a single game for too long; that’s a niche thing.
Look at Monster Hunter: World. It’s the most successful, best-selling game of Capcom’s entire history. It sold millions of copies. But because shareholders, who are generally clueless, have “service” on the brain, Capcom’s stick recently dropped quite a bit because Monster Hunter: World sales have dipped. The game came out in January and sold more than any game Capcom has ever made, of course the sales are friggin’ dropping off – everyone who wants it has it. It’s hardly even a service game, as while it’s updated over time and Capcom is running tournament events, it’s going to lead into a sequel eventually. There’s no DLC model in it, aside from a few side options. It’s ridiculous: Imagine if Monster Hunter: World was a service game with tons of DLC, cosmetic purchases, etc. It wouldn’t have been nearly as successful.
It’s obvious that the games industry is looking for answers to difficult questions. It’s harder and harder for big games, based on demands, expectations, and technology, to make money. The biggest companies are still making money for publishing games, but individual developers are often at the mercy of random chance, with games needing to either be massive hits, or be considered failures. That’s not good! Games as service may have seemed like a light at the end of the tunnel, a compromise between single and multiplayer. But as everyone is jumping on it, we’re already seeing chinks in the armor.